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Merrow O Connell?'
What the hell kind of a name was that anyway? Alex exhaled on a huff of air; he had better things to do with his time than traipse halfway across Dublin in search of the damn elusive woman with the ridiculous name. And it wasn't as if his patience wasn't already sorely pushed to the limit these days by the demands of a certain client! But then if it weren't for that client he wouldn't be traipsing in the first place, would he?
He could remember his life being simpler. Not that long ago as it happened. It just felt longer
The female voice he recognised from the phone sounded from above, so he took a step back and tilted his chin up to try and see where it had come from. At the top of some scaffolding, flat on her back while applying gold leaf to an intricate Moroccan pattern on the ceiling, was his prey. And prey she was, make no mistakehe was getting her for this project if he had to make a deal with the devil.
He wanted the simpler version of his life back.
'I spoke to you on the phone earlier.'
'That must have been a treat for you. I'm famous for my sexy phone voice.'
Her voice hadbeen sexy on the phone; at least he'd thought so at the time. Well, he'd thought it until she'd cut him short and hung up on him. People in this city did not hang up on a Fitzgerald. It was practically unheard of if they planned on having a successful career. And it had left him staring angrily at the phone for a good ten minutes before he decided to take the bull by the horns.
'You said you were too busy to come to the office so I decided to come see you in per'
'And as you can see, I'm still busy. Idon't see how anything barring an organ transplant couldn't have waited 'til tomorrow, Mr Fitzgerald.'
A wise ass, great, exactly what he needed about now. 'Ordinarily I'd agree with you, but my client is persistent, and if I don't nail down an interior designer soon the whole project will fall behind '
Well, it wasn't entirely a lie He just left out the part where, if he didn't get an interior designer soon, he would probably be up on the charge of murdering his client. Even if it was technically 'self-defence'the very fact he'd contemplated it made it premeditated.
Another day wouldn't have mattered. I'll be done with this by then.'
He watched as her long fingers gently pushed the last of the gold leaf into place with some kind of applicator. 'Well, I'm here now. Is there any chance you might come down here for five minutes before you start another sheet?'
'There is if you ask nicely.'
He took a steadying breath, forcing the word through tight lips. 'Please?'
Alex swore underneath his breath and heard soft, musical laughter from above. If she hadn't been the one designer his client was hell-bent on getting then he'd have told her exactly where she could put 'pretty please' about now
'All right, I'm coming down.'
He took a step back, glancing around the room as she made her way down the scaffolding. An interesting, if somewhat opulent design for a restaurant in his opinion, but hey, whatever the client wanted, right? The mosaic tiling on the floor must have been a right cow to put down though so maybe she knew how to work with difficult clients already?
When two dusty work boots appeared in his line of vision his gaze slowly raised, over equally dusty denim dungarees at least two sizes too big for the frame beneath them, until he was looking at her face.
Alex gaped openly. And Alex never gaped. He'd been brought up better than that.
Her green eyes widened. 'You?'
'You're Merrow O'Connell?'
And you're Alexander Fitzgerald?' A wide smile spread across her lush lips. 'Well, well, isn't this interesting?'
He shoved his fisted hands into his trouser pockets and rewarded her smile with a frown, determined not to smile back even though he could feel a smile forming in his chest. But she'd reeled him in with a smile last time, hadn't she?
'You can't be Merrow O'Connell.' Not that she'd been keen to provide a name last time 'Red' he had called her in the end.
Merrow folded her arms across the front of her dungarees and tilted her head, a long loose strand of wavy auburn hair dangling across her throat. And why can't I?'
'Because I'm not spending the next nine months working with you after'
'One night of incredibly hot uncomplicated sex?'
When she accompanied the question with a knowing sparkle in her eyes, he pressed his mouth into a thin line. He didn't need this, really he didn't. He must have been so-o-o bad in a previous life.
But he was an adult, he could handle awkward situations, so he had such a problem with this because ?
Well, because the millisecond he'd realised who it was he was talking to his mind had remembered every single second of that one night, vividly. And judging by the rush of blood southwards from his brain his body would have no problem with a repeat performance. An all-night repeat performance, slow and hot, possibly with different accessoriesnot that the silk scarf hadn't worked for him just fine last time, but maybe something more velvety, or feathers, or
See, this was exactly what he was worried about.
How in hell was he supposed to concentrate on work if he had this to deal with every day? She'd distract the heck out of him! And he had enough to deal with.
'And anyway,' she lifted her delicate chin and informed him haughtily, 'I haven't said I'd work with you yet. Are you always this presumptuous? Is the famous Fitzgerald name supposed to be enough to persuade me on its own? I should be on my knees in front of you about now, I suppose '
She was babbling, but Alex's imagination did all kinds of things with that image! He closed his eyes briefly, took a breath, and then turned his head to look at her from the corners of narrowed eyes. 'Are you making fun of me now?'
'Me?' The smile teased her mouth again, 'O-o-ooh, as if I'd dare.'
He was still trying to figure out if that was another dig as she unfolded her arms and walked past him. 'I told you on the phone I'd have to see the project before I agreed to anything.'
'You said you had a short window in your schedule. And you won't turn it down when you see it.'
'You don't know I won't.'
'Yes, I do, 'cos any designer who loves what they do would be seriously turned on by a project this size.'
Great choice of words, Alex.
When she looked over her shoulder her eyes were sparkling with mischief again. 'Didn't anyone ever tell you size doesn't matter?'
Alex pursed his lips again and looked at the ceiling when she turned away, taking a deep breath to try and get his brain enough oxygen to work properly. Men at the grand age of thirty weren't supposed to be so close to having high blood pressure, were they?
'Well, how about you try looking at it before you make your mind up? My client is very keen on your work.' He frowned at the ceiling. She needn't think she was adding mad Moroccan influences to the beautiful lines he'd spent months designing for the Pavenham. Sure as hell not when it had taken eight drafts to get it past Mickey D and his pals.
'The Pavenham could be the kind of project to launch you into the big time '
With a flask in her hand, Merrow turned. She blew a puff of air at the loose strand of hair before fixing her green gaze directly on his eyes. 'The Pavenham Hotel? The one that Apocalypse just bought?'
'That's the one.' He genuinely smiled this time, because he'd known she'd at least be impressed by that. After all, the project was already making news all over the world. 'And they have deep pockets. You'd be very well paid for your work.'
'Chamomile tea?' She held up the flask.
Alex shook his head. 'Hell, no.'
And she smiled again, damn her. That small, mischievous imp of a smile that might look cute on her when she was wearing dusty dungarees, but when she'd been wearing barely visible white shorts and a black single-button jacket that looked distinctly as if she wasn't wearing a bra underneath it well, it'd translated differently then. It was one of the very first things that had drawn him to her that unusually sultry September night in Galway. She had smiled that smile and Alex's body had leapt to attention. Literally.
Even the memory of it now was doing the same thing all over again.
Her voice dropped to a seductive edge. 'It might help you with all that tension.'
He frowned again, removing his hands from his pockets to fold his arms across his broad chest. 'What tension?'
'Mickey D must be giving you hell.'
Oh, that tension. Alex tilted his head in challenge. 'You think I can't handle an ageing rocker like Mickey D?'
'I think you wouldn't have chased halfway across Dublin looking for me if he wasn't digging his heels in. He's famous for being a bit of a prima donna ' She tilted her head at a similar angle to his and smiled another mischievous imp of a smile. 'I was conceived to one of his songs, you know.'
Actually, I'm not sure I needed to know that. But I'm sure he'll love it when you tell him.'
She waved the flask back and forth. 'Seriously, chamomile is great stuffand completely natural.'
'I'm good, thanks.'
Merrow shrugged, and when she focussed on unscrewing the flask's cap, pouring light golden liquid into it, he used the time to study what she was wearing. Honestly? He mightn't have paid so much attention to her the first time round if she'd been wearing that get-up. But knowing as well as he did what the loose material was hiding meant for the first time in his life, denim dungarees held a certain amount of attraction.
Underneath that denim and the madly coloured lime-green and purple sweater she curved in all the places Alex had always thought a woman should curve. She'd smelled vaguely of lavender, had amazingly soft skin, pert, tight little breasts that just spilled out of his large hands, long legs that wrapped around his waist while he
Alex swallowed hard. And she'd had underwear as it turned out; tiny lace scraps straight out of any red-blooded male fantasies which made him wonder what she was wearing now
'So what happened to your last interior designer?'
He watched as a finely arched eyebrow rose, as her mouth formed a perfect 'o' to blow over the rim of the lid before she blinked her long lashes at him and asked, 'How many have there been?'
'Four.' Which was still four less than the number of times he'd done the architectural designs but, even so 'Mickey D is quite particular.'
'So I'm a last resort, am I?'
Actually you're the first one that he's been determined he has to have.'
She took a sip of tea and laughed softly as she walked past him. 'Mmm. I doubt I'm really the first.'
Somehow the thought of some guy like Mickey D wanting more than Merrow's design skills didn't sit well with Alex. And the fact that it didn't sit well bugged him. It was none of his bloody business. Didn't stop his terse answer though.
'That kind of recruiting he can do on his own. I'm his architect, not his pimp.'
Merrow's eyebrows both rose. 'Seriously, there's more tea in the flask.'
Dammit! It could have been any other woman on the planet and Alex would have been much happier.
He unfolded his arms and put his hands back into his pockets, fully aware of the fact he was fidgeting. And Alex didn't fidget. That was another thing he'd been taught not to do. 'Why don't you just look at the place and see what you think?'
He tacked on something extra for good measure. 'Please.'
'Well, please certainly helps, though if you'd waited twenty-four hours I'd have gone to see it anyway. It's what I'd planned on doing '
'You could have said that on the phone.'
'Thought I had' she shrugged 'but, in fairness, when you rang I was having a goldfish crisis. I did tell you to call me back tomorrow.'
Alex stared at her for a long, long time.
Until eventually Merrow couldn't take the silence any more. 'What?'
He shook his head.
And Merrow felt another bubble of laughter working its way up from her chest. This was just too, too surreal. Mr-Best-Sex-Of-Her-Life was Alexander Fitzgerald? Who knew? Not that knowing would probably have stopped her from going for it that night. He was the sexiest guy she'd ever laid eyes on had been able to turn her on with a glancehad brought her body to that humming-all-over-afterwards point that few women got to experience. And how many times in a sensible girl's life did she have an opportunity for one night of abandon? Men might have no problem with the whole one-night-stand thing, but womenwell, Irish women at least still had a little catching up to do.
Merrow felt that one fantasy night was her doing her part for feminism and a great deal for her own sense of sexual empowerment. Her mother would have been so proud
She sipped her tea and waited for him to say something. Anything. He could have read out the football scores and she'd have listened. He had a great voice; a deep, rumbling voice. No wonder she'd felt a tingle run up her spine when he'd spoken to her on the phone. She just hadn't put the two voices together into the same person in her mindafter all, it had been several months ago.
Her mysterious Galway guy had been relaxed, casually dressed, totally at ease, funny as hell and sexy as sin. Alexander Fitzgerald from Fitzgerald & Son the architects had been brusque and impatient on the phone, and in the flesh was dressed all city-business-guy uptight. Though the sexy as sin was still there
Kinda made her think about loosening him up some.
His hazel eyes narrowed slightly, and he pursed his lips together so that the dimple in the centre of his chin deepened. Then his square jaw rose, light from the windows shining off the short spikes of blond hair as he asked her in a deep grumble, 'Are you this difficult to work with too?'
'I wasn't aware I was being difficult.' She blinked innocently and sipped her tea.
'Can you do tomorrow morning at nine?'
'We-ell, I'd have to check my busy schedule' She grinned when his mouth narrowed again. He was so-o-o easy to wind up! And the Pavenham Hotel was a hu-uge project; the kind of project a career could indeed be built on. It was almost enough to make her mouth water more than the initial sight of Alex in Galway had. Almost. But for different reasons obviously.